Michel Gondry Retrospective

Director: Michel Gondry
Year:
Country:
Running time: 83 mins
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This programme of films may well offer more cinematic invention per second than anything else in this year’s programme.

Michel Gondry was born in Versailles in 1963, grew up only moderately twisted, and in the 1980s found himself in Paris, in art school and in a pop group, Oui Oui. Michel the drummer soon became Michel the video director, and in 1992 one of his whimsical, nostalgic Oui Oui videos caught the eye of Icelandic star-in-waiting Björk, who asked Gondry to direct the video for her first solo single, ‘Human Behaviour’. The song and video were hits, and two stars were born.

Gondry continued his association with Björk while also directing memorable and innovative clips for such acts as Sinead O’Connor, Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Beck, Chemical Brothers and the White Stripes. Several of his music videos, including ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Around the World’ and ‘Come Into My World’ set new benchmarks for the form.

Gondry effortlessly diversified into directing commercials for Levi’s, Nike and, famously, Smirnoff, but he experienced a rather more problematic transition to feature filmmaking. His first effort, Human Nature, from a script by Charlie Kaufman, was a commercial and critical flop, but his second Kaufman project, this year’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has been acclaimed. The quirky poignancy of that feature came as no surprise to aficionados of the short films celebrated in this programme.

Michel Gondry’s output represents one of the most satisfying contemporary meetings of art and commerce. All of these films are, for better or worse, commercials, and yet they are also deeply personal. Gondry often draws his inspiration from dreams or childhood memories, and in ‘Knives Out’ he is unafraid to transform recent personal trauma into ostensible entertainment.

Many of his works are dreamlike and rambling, in the traditions of venerable surrealists (Buñuel), experimental psychodramatists (Deren) and blackly comic animators (Švankmajer); others are paragons of concision, formalist masterpieces obsessively tracing a single idea to its surprising conclusion. He shows an equal facility for developing new modes of expression from cutting-edge digital imagery and from bare-basics home-movie tricks.

It’s possible, in true auteurist tradition, to trace the development of visual and thematic ideas from video to video. ‘Let Forever Be’, for example, takes cheesy late 70s/early 80s video effects as its starting point, getting dazzling results from painstakingly reproducing those primitive kaleidoscopic smears as actual choreography. His brilliant ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ takes the same idea and gives it an even lower-tech treatment, with equally striking results. (A similar developmental relationship can be observed between the abstraction of ‘Around the World’ and that of the sublime ‘Star Guitar’).

For all that his films reflect personal preoccupations, the director is always true to his material. Despite their conceptual similarity, it’s as hard to imagine a better visual accompaniment for the Chemical Brothers’ churning neo-psychedelia as it is to envisage a more fitting representation of the White Stripes’ primitive stomp. — Andrew Langridge

Bolide – Oui Oui
1986
Composers: Oui Oui
2 minutes
Michel’s very first video: cut-out animation of a crazy car trip.

Les Cailloux – Oui Oui
1989
Composers: Oui Oui
3 minutes
A delightful stop-motion animation featuring Michel and his bandmates (or rather, their puppet stand-ins) on a rural jaunt.

La Ville – Oui Oui
1992
Composers: Oui Oui
4 minutes
‘La Ville’ was the final and most ambitious of the series of videos Gondry made for his own band. ‘I was influenced by Deee-lite’s great video ‘Groove Is In the Heart’. I wanted to do a tribute to pop-art. We are wearing afros because people always complained that we have no swing.’ — Michel Gondry

Human Behaviour – Björk
1993
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Art director: Michel Maniot
Composers: Björk Gudmundsdottir, Nellee Hooper, Antonio Carlos Jobim
4 minutes
This eerie fairytale scenario – cabin in the woods, prowling bear, hunter – was inspired by the work of great Russian animator Yuri Norstein.

La tour de Pise – Jean-François Coen
1993
Composers: G. Isreal, Jean-François Coen
3 minutes
A gorgeous city symphony in which Gondry collages the lyrics to the song from the world around him.

Je danse le mia – IAM
1993
Composers: Phillippe Fragione, Pascal Jean Cha Perez, Rodney Temperton
4 minutes
George Benson gets recycled into French rap while Gondry digitally fakes a series of zooms that drags the audience through the world of the song.

Drugstore – Levi’s Commercial
1995
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Art director: Robbie Freed
2 minutes
One of the most honoured commercials of all time: a pitch-perfect period recreation that seems to channel the spirit of Dorothea Lange.

Lucas with the Lid Off – Lucas
1995
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Art director: Gilles Chapas
Composers: Brown, Freed, Jenson, Secon, Zany
4 minutes
A fabulously inventive sepia-toned, single-shot video for a swing-inspired rap track.

Like a Rolling Stone – The Rolling Stones
1995
Photography: Harris Savides
Stills photography: Andy Earl, Gianna Conji, Jean-Marc Mirette
Special Effects: Buf Compagnie
Composer: Bob Dylan
With: Patricia Arquette
4 minutes
A standard performance video is transformed by pioneering Gondry technique. In this groundbreaking work motion is recreated by morphing together a series of stills.

Resignation – Polaroid Commercial
1996
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
1 minute
A concise tale of office revenge, featuring a virtuoso orchestration of transitions.

Sugar Water – Cibo Matto
1996
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Art director: Mark Homes
Composers: Yuka Honda, Sean Lennon, Miho Hatori, Ennio Morricone
4 minutes
A filmic palindrome, or how to make a two-shot film with only one shot. One of Gondry’s most astonishing achievements (and no, he doesn’t cheat).

Smarienberg – Smirnoff Commercial
1996
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Art director: Robbie Freed
Special effects: Buf Compagnie
1 minute
One of the most influential films of the past twenty years, and it’s over in 60 seconds.

Around the World – Daft Punk
1997
Photography: Alex Lamarque
Art director: Jean-Pascal Chalard
Choreography: Blanca Li
Composers: Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homen-Christo
4 minutes
A triumphantly literalist video that transliterates music into abstract choreography. Len Lye with human bodies.

Everlong – Foo Fighters
1997
Photography: Pierre Rouger
Art director: Bill Lakoff
Composer: Dave Grohl
5 minutes
One of Gondry’s densest videos, a double-dream scenario derived from the director’s own dreamlife and childhood memories.

Bachelorette – Björk
1997
Photography: Lance Acord
Art director: Samantha Gore
Composers: Björk Gudmundsdottir, Sigurjon Sigurdsson
5 minutes
‘One day I found a big book buried deep in the ground. I opened it, but all the pages were blank. Then, to my surprise, it started writing itself: ‘One day, I found a big book buried deep in the ground…’’

Drumb and Drumber
1998
Photography: Phil Klemmer
Music: Michel Gondry
1 minute
Michel drums about town in what looks like a rehearsal for ‘The Hardest Button to Button’.

Timelapse Tests
1999
1 minute
Michel films himself moving really slowly. Although the technique is completely different, the effect anticipates his 2001 Earthlink commercial.

Let Forever Be – The Chemical Brothers
1999
Photography: Lance Acord
Art Director: K. K. Barrett
Choreography: Keith Young
Composers: Thomas Rowlands, Edmund Simons, Noel Gallagher
With: Stephanie Landwehr
4 minutes
Gondry demonstrates the virtues of doing things the hard way by recreating early 80s video effects choreographically: as close as you’ll get to Busby Berkeley on acid.

Leo – Nike Commercial
1999
1 minute
Does for video games what Smarienberg did for action films.

Privacy – Earthlink Commercial
2001
30 seconds
‘They’re watching you. Compiling your information. Invading your privacy. Revealing your identity.’ Michel discovers yet another use for motion-control photography.

Knives Out - Radiohead
2001
Composers: Radiohead
With: Thom Yorke, Emma de Caunes
4 minutes
‘It’s an autobiographical video. . . It is the story of my girlfriend who had leukaemia and the time I spent watching over her in the hospital.’ — Michel Gondry

Fell In Love with a Girl – The White Stripes
2002
Animator: Sebastian Fau
Composer: Jack White
2 minutes
‘My generation is really the Lego generation.’ — Michel Gondry

Star Guitar – The Chemical Brothers
2001
Special Effects: Twisted Laboratories
Composers: Thomas Rowlands, Edmund Simons
4 minutes
‘The video describes a journey as seen from a train window, only the disposition of each passing element in the landscape is positioned exactly in sync with the music.’ — Michel Gondry

Dead Leaves & the Dirty Ground – The White Stripes
2002
Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Art director: Chris Chesney
Composer: Jack White
3 minutes
Memory and the slippage of time have had an abiding fascination for Gondry, from his earliest videos right up to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this video, a haunted Jack White projects memories of past events on the house in which they took place.

Come Into My World – Kylie Minogue
2002
Photography: Alex Lamarque
Art director: Pierre Pell
Composers: Robert Davis, Catherine Dennis
4 minutes
In 100 years time, will Kylie Minogue’s recording career be remembered only as a footnote to these four minutes? This devilishly clever single-shot film must have been almost as difficult to conceive as it was to execute (you are watching Take 15). We follow Kylie as she circles an urban intersection, but in Kylie’s world time is both linear and looped.

Swap – Levi’s Commercial
2003
Music: Nellee Hooper
1 minute
Don’t you want to buy the same brand that all the coolest mice are wearing? ‘Levi’s make really great things with an edge, but sometimes I feel like a sell-out. But at least I sell out for a good price.’ — Michel Gondry

The Hardest Button to Button – The White Stripes
2003
Photography: Lance Bangs
Art director: Happy Massee
Composer: Jack White
4 minutes
Gondry brilliantly approximates digital effects with century-old filmmaking tricks – and a shitload of drumkits.